The Barn Find IBM 360 Comes Home

It’s a story that may be familiar to many of us, that of bidding on an item in an online auction and discovering once we go to pick it up that we’ve bought a bit more than we’d bargained for. We told you earlier in the year about the trio of Brits who bought an IBM System/360 mainframe computer from the mid 1960s off of a seller in Germany, only to find in the long-abandoned machine room that they’d bought not just one but two 360s, and a System/370 to boot. Their van was nowhere near big enough for all three machines plus a mountain of cabling, documentation, and period storage media, so they moved it to a hastily-rented storage unit and returned home to work out what on earth to do next.

Now we’ve received an email from the trio with some good news; not only have they managed to bring their hoard of vintage big iron computing back home, but also they’ve found a home for it in the rather unusual surroundings of a former top-secret UK Government signals intelligence station. With the help of a friendly specialist IT relocation company they unleashed it from their temporary storage and into the truck for the UK. It’s a tale of careful packing and plenty of wrapped pallets, as we begin to glimpse the true extent of the collection as you can see in the video below the break, because not only have they secured all the hardware but they also have a huge quantity of punched cards and disk packs. The prospect of a software archaeology peek into how a 1960s mainframe was used by its original customer is a particularly interesting one, as it’s likely those media contain an ossified snapshot of its inner workings.

We’re hoping to follow this project as it evolves, and see (we hope) a room full of abandoned junk transformed into a facsimile of a typical 1960s business computing setup. If you’d like to catch up, read our original coverage of the find.

27 thoughts on “The Barn Find IBM 360 Comes Home

      1. The IBM engineering capability of moving paper was quite remarkable. I think I saw a 2501 card reader in the video. I may have it wrong, but I think that machine could read 1200 80-column cards a minute – 20 cards per second. That machine flew.
        Jim Hoyt – IBM, 1970-1982, 2010-2013
        hoyt_ndm@fastmail.fm

  1. I used to fix the IBM 360 65, had a customer with half a dozen I did this while I was in my early twenties in the 1980s

    I also could fix a 2401 or a1403 and at least know a little about the 2540 and the 2821 controller.

    And lest I forget the 2314 disk drive where you had to check the hydraulic fluid although they were not nearly as prone to leaks as the 1403 hydraulic unit.

  2. I worked for Parents’ Magazine in 1957, in the subscription building. All the names and addresses were kept on embossed metal plates and subject to being dislodged from their trays as they were fed into the label maker so that the magazine could be mailed to them. There was one room in the building which housed an IBM (I’m guessing a 360). All the metal files had to be reentered on punch cards. The machine itself was programmed by 2 workers who had all these little jump wires and a honeycomb design board that the wires attached to. That was early computing.

    1. That jumble of wires on a board belonged to one of IBM’s “accounting machines”, not a computer. Later, the work those machines did was converted to a computer, probably an IBM 1401. The IBM 360 started in the mid-1960s.

    2. Malcolm is correct. The International Business Machines company made all sorts of sorting and tabulating machines for 41 years before its first computer, and for many years after. In the late 1970s my high school had IBM tabulating machines in the administrative offices.

      The first IBM computers were custom-made for the federal government and military (IBM’s roots were in making machines for the US Census) using vacuum tubes. In 1957 IBM committed to using transistors, and in late 1959 the model 1401 computer was announced. The S/360 line came in 1964.

      A machine of that time and place would have been just an embossing machine. Subscriber information was probably kept on paper in filing cabinets, and transcribed to Hollerith cards that stored enough information to stamp out new plates as needed. All the characters for an address label could fit onto a single 80-column card, using abbreviations or truncation for longer names. Three lines of 24 characters each (first for name, second for street address, third for city & state) would leave 8 digits for a serial number. Zip codes and 2-letter state abbreviations were introduced in 1963.

      Computers were few and expensive before the personal computer was invented. If Parents’ Magazine became computerized in the 1960s, it would likely have been a single mainframe rented from IBM by Meredith Corporation, and used by all of the company’s publications. Chances are that embossed labels were replaced with labels printed by the A. B. Dick Videojet printer.

      1. My dim mmemory says that along with those sorting and tabulating machines there was also a printer, fed by punched cards produced by the tabulationg machines. The printer was used to print address labels.

  3. My first computer operations job was in a computer room with two of these. My favorite story is the time we dedicated one of them for a couple of months 12 hours a day to do some 3-D “modeling” (I think it was something to do with CNC machining.) One programmer using ALL its resources! Must have cost several hundred thousand dollars. When he was done, he had a 2-minute demo that several big-wigs came to see. Now you know why the B-2 Spirit cost so much. I was in that NON-operational computer room for over two years. Both systems churning away 24/7 with 2 to 3 staff in the room just waiting for something to happen.

    We can now do that on last year’s smartphone.

    1. >Who remembers the 407 accounting machine with the boards you had to wire?<

      Ha ha, I do. When I first went to work for IBM (St. Louis office) right after college (a long time ago), I remember seeingone of those boards on a desk with someone working on it, and wondering how in the world anyone made sense of that. And them I became one of those :-)

Leave a Reply to Donald Roy Stephani Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.